In the circle of local advocacy groups–especially local food groups–there is often a discussion about which aspects of local are the most important. In our creation of the Localize Score, this debate erupted the most. In order to be succinct, we have frequently articulated the Localize Score as a measurement of ‘how local’ a product is. The score has been built from over 500 crowd-sourced opinions on the topic, so we have done our due diligence in assigning certain weights to certain attributes.
Over the course of our pilots, we have refined and improved our index considerably. One of the challenges that we confronted was in articulating the distinction between local production, local ownership, local value-addition, local jobs, local ingredients, and sustainability.
To demonstrate the dynamic qualities of ‘how local’ a product or business process is, consider the following:
- How much more local is a carrot that is grown 50 km away from its point of sale versus a carrot grown 350km away? Is distance the only metric that matters?
- How might we score a Canadian carrot versus an American carrot? What if the Canadian carrot is used in a carrot cake that was made by an American company but baked in Calgary?
- How should we measure the ‘localness’ of a business which is owned here in Alberta but which uses ingredients (such as coffee, rice flour, or raisins) that are from somewhere else? (Eg. How much less local is a locally-owned coffee roasterie that uses imported beans?)
- Incidentally, the inverse question is also relevant: How much more local is a locally-owned roasterie than, say, a multi-national roaster who has a plant here in Alberta? How do we distinguish between the two?
- Can a large corporation with no local ownership be considered local if they are located nearby? If so, then how should their local impact be measured in relation to locally and independently owned businesses doing similar production?
The basic premise of the Localize Score has been to create something that can be equally applied to any product so that we can discuss its local impact without dogma or confusion. We work closely with producers and food businesses to assess the following in detail:
We place a strong emphasis on the merits of local ownership, which resonates with me the most. I believe that local ownership is the most significant aspect of local because it has the most profound impact on the community by imparting the highest possible level of autonomy and local control.
In our Localize Project pilots, we have observed that locally owned food retail businesses typically carry a significantly larger number of locally sourced products in their stores. Why? One could surmise that a local owner has more opportunity to make decisions that support their immediate community and economy. That type of autonomy has a trickle down effect to other businesses and individuals.
In both food and retail, multiple locally owned businesses add vibrancy, character, and prosperity to a neighbourhood. In addition, local business owners invest back into the community by creating jobs, competition, and services as well as supporting local organizations and initiatives. Local decision-making really does enhance the health of communities.
So what about those three questions I posed above, all of which relate to more complicated scenarios that have teased and tormented locavores?
Consider Quality Bakery from B.C. who source all of their grains and flour from Grain Works in Vulcan, Alberta. We attribute them 3.0/3.5 points for being an independent Western Canadian business, 2.0/2.0 points for using greater than 95% Alberta ingredients, and 4.0/4.5 points for having production in B.C. Quality Bakery achieves a total score of 9.0/10 on our index.
Incidentally, Quality Bakery competes against large corporately owned bakeries who might score something like this: 1.0/3.5 for being a Canadian publicly traded company, 1.6/2.0 for sourcing >95% ingredients from the Canadian prairies, and 4.4/4.5 points for production in Alberta but not within an immediate municipality of purchase. Though corporately owned companies create some local benefit (in this case, they score a 7.1/10), when weighed against the values imbued in ‘local food,’ they score lower in our rating system.
The distinction between these two types of bread is that one company has a more relative level of local control and local ownership, while the other has a low relative level of local control and no local ownership. Moreover, the direct sourcing of ingredients from an Alberta independently-owned company means that Quality Bakery is directly impacting the value addition of our wheat products right here in the province.
Our goal in creating the Localize Score was to provide a transparent rating that fairly represents where a product is from in addition to its impact on the local community. In doing this, we hope to have created a service that consumers can use to learn more about where their food is from and to give them the opportunity to support local in mainstream grocery stores. On a broader scale, we are helping food producers to identify local supply chains and incentivising them by providing a metric they can be recognized for.